Wednesday, August 16, 2023

AVCX 7:30 (Amy) 


LAT 4:39 (GRAB) 


The New Yorker 3:45 (Amy) 


NYT 5:03 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today 8:31 (Emily) 


WSJ 6:04 (Jim) 


Seth Bisen-Hersh’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “In the Can”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar phrases whose first words are synonyms of “rubbish.” The revealer is OSCAR THE GROUCH (59a, [Sesame Street resident who’d appreciate this puzzle’s theme]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “In the Can” · Seth Risen-Hersh · Wed., 8.16.23

  • 16a. [Place for virtual clutter] JUNK MAIL FOLDER.
  • 27a. [Shots taken before a basketball game, perhaps] TRASH TALK.
  • 37a. [Humorous trading card series introduced in 1985] GARBAGE PAIL KIDS. I’ve heard of these but thought they were dolls, not trading cards.
  • 45a. [Where a cat may go that a human doesn’t?] LITTER BOX. Poop humor! Nice clue.

Solid enough synonym theme. OSCAR THE GROUCH was always a favorite character, so it’s nice to see him in a grid.

In the fill, I liked “READ A BOOK” clued as a command as well as STEEP CLIMB and AERIALISTS. I balked at EBLASTS [Online marketing techniques] which looks like questionable fill at best. However, it does have some precedent in the cruciverb database. MESH BAG is a bit green painty, and I’m doubtful that NOT SPAM is actually a [Button to move items from 16-Across]. I don’t know how it is in the Windows universe, but on the Mac side, such mail is called “junk.” Ah, apparently Gmail has a “Report not spam” button.

Clues of note:

  • 21a. [Broad brogue indication]. EEE. I just got this. I was trying to understand how someone emitting an “EEE!” was indicative of a brogue accent, then realized we’re talking shoes here.
  • 5d. [Aah, there’s where to get the rub!]. SPA. Cute.
  • 8d. [Jason Momoa’s “Game of Thrones” role]. DROGO. I needed most of the crossings here even though that was his breakout character. Khal DROGO didn’t make it past season 2 on that show.

3.5 stars.

Mangesh Ghogre & Brendan Quigley’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 8/16/23 – no. 0816

Every seasoned crossword solver knows that AGRA, INDIA is where the TAJ MAHAL is. Mangesh, who was the first (and only?) Indian-in-India constructor published in the NYT, teamed up with BEQ to pay tribute to the edifice. TAJ MAHAL is spelled out (in the circled letters) in the outline of an ONION DOME. Below the dome is a shaded section of the puzzle representing the shape of the building’s front. To the side we have two of FOUR MINARETs in circled letters, spelling out that ONION DOME and SHAH JAHAN, who had the Taj built as a TOMB for his “favorite wife,” Mumtaz Mahal. The building also has a SPIRE seen in the thick bar at the grid’s top center. I think that’s it for the Taj Mahal–related content in this puzzle—let me know if I missed something. A cricket BAT connotes India, but not the monument featured in the puzzle.

Now, 8/15 is Indian Independence Day but the puzzle’s running on 8/16. Deemed too challenging for a Tuesday, I suppose?

Fave fill: Recent Oscar nominees Stephanie HSU and STEVEN Yuen, LETHAL BLOW (why isn’t that the name of a super-spicy bubblegum?), VW JETTA.

New to me: [Extra point for a shooting foul, in basketball], AND ONE. Never heard this term! And yet I quizzed my husband on the clue and he replied, “And one.” Well, then!

Four stars from me.

Annemarie Brethauer’s Universal crossword, “Put in Reverse” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 8/16/23 • Wed • Brethauer • “Put in Reverse” • solution • 20230816

Didn’t look at the title. Plopped in the first acrosses in the upper left as FACED (with an asterisked clue) and INANE, but then when I looked at 5d [Finder’s charge], which I knew had to be FEE, I reconsidered 1-across and decided to fill it in backwards, as FACED/DECAF is a well-known reversal pair. And then 1-down also had an asterisk! Could it be another reversal? Yes!

So the theme was definitely not obscure to me, and when I encountered the revealer in the center, it was clarified even more.

  • 37aR [Ensnare … and a hint to the starred clues’ answers] BACK INTO A CORNER. All of the asterisked clues either originate or terminate in the grid’s corners.
  • 1a. [*Confronted] DECAF (faced).
    1d. [*Settled, as a loan] DIAPER (repaid).
  • 9a. [*Stella Artois, e.g.] REGAL (lager).
    13d. [*Skate park bar] LIAR (rail).
  • 53d. [*Role] TRAP (part).
    65a. [*Get some shut-eye] PEELS (sleep).
  • 48d. [*Part of a bureau] REWARD (drawer).
    67a. [*Jorts material] MINED (denim).

Many of these pairs are rather well known, so I wasn’t exactly wowed by the lineup. But it’s a smooth construction and solid crossword.

  • 17a [Like an 80-degree angle] ACUTE. All the corners of course are right angles. Just thought I’d mention that.
  • 20a [Bakasana, e.g., in yoga] POSE. It’s the crane pose.
  • 24a [Brew such as sahti or stout] ALEContra lager at 9 across, sort of.
  • 52a [Apt letters missing from “_ntense _ag_”] IRE. Still waiting on a moratorium for this style of clue.
  • 56a [He clears tables] BUSBOY. Despite the gendered pronoun in the clue I first entered BUSSER. Perhaps my instinct was that BUSBOY might be obsolescent because of paternalistic connotation?
  • 28d [Rubbing the wrong way] IRKING. Not part of the theme, but descriptive of 52-across’ clue and its ilk.
  • 55d [Cold drink with a FlaMango flavor] ICEE. Are the mangoes sourced exclusively from Florida?

MaryEllen Uthlaut’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

Today, MaryEllen Uthlaut presents a theme that is four idiomatic synonyms for “quickly”, each clued to be associated with a vehicle associated with a vocation:

  • [The ice cream truck arrived __], LICKETYSPLIT. Because the sell splits? And you lick their products? I guess?
  • [The food truck arrived __], INSHORTORDER. Because you order food from them?
  • [The newspaper delivery van arrived __], WITHDISPATCH. Because dispatch is a name for some newspapers?
  • [The race car arrived __], STRAIGHTAWAY. Because straights are on race car tracks? The only one that isn’t transporting a product…

The fill felt quite basic, even for a Wednesday, with a few old standbys I haven’t seen in a while: [Gaelic tongue], ERSE; [Jet, in poems], EBON; [Trunk hardware], HASP; [Muse of astronomy], URANIA.


Aimee Lucido’s New Yorker crossword–Amy’s recap

New Yorker crossword solution, 8/16/23 – Lucido

This “lightly challenging” themeless hits the mark.

Fave fill: “YOU’D THINK!”, PITY PARTY, SPREAD THE WORD, the contemporary QUIET QUITTING. SUSAN B. ANTHONY, NANOWRIMO (that’s short for National Novel Writing Month), QUENCHED, SUSHI ROLL, DYSTOPIA, SETBACK, WINE BARS, and perhaps some grand jury TESTIMONY.

Did not know: 43d. [“Aristotle and ___ Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (award-winning Y.A. book by Benjamin Alire Sáenz)], DANTE. With this, NANOWRIMO, and the YA-related clue for DYSTOPIA, you won’t be surprised to hear that Aimee writes kid literature.

The Shib SIBS are Olympic ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani.

Not wild about ARAL ENID SWE AGR RETOW ENS, but it’s easier to skip past the glue when the puzzle goes quickly.

3.5 stars from me. Love that middle stair-stepped trio of 13s!

Billy Bratton’s AV Club Classic crossword, “Main Squeezes”–Amy’s recap

AV Club Classic crossword, 8/16/23 – “Main Squeezes”

Cute theme. The revealer is FRIEND CRUSH, [Platonic longing represented four times in this puzzle], and there are four “crushed” friends in rebus squares:

  • Semi-awkward E{PA L}AB crossing the colloquial “STO{P AL}READY!”
  • The challenging LAM{B RO}AST crossing PU{B RO}CK, and neither is a phrase I’ve ever used
  • The also challenging {BUD}GED in a negotation crossing the new-to-me term BLACK {BUD}GET, meaning [Funding for covert operations]. Minor annoyance: The correct {BUD} wasn’t accepted for the .puz file solution, but the letter B was. The other three rebus squares were taken with multiple letters.


Didn’t know that MIAMI‘s mayor is Francis Suarez, nor that the [Rapper who sampled Marvin Gaye on the banger “The Heart Part 5”] is LAMAR. The clue would be a lot easier with “Kendrick” in it!  Here’s that song. Dang, Kendrick really packs a lot of words into a song.

3.5 stars from me.


Tooky Kavanagh & Amanda Rafkin’s USA Today Crossword, “R2-D2” — Emily’s write-up

Today’s puzzle isn’t quite as sci-fi as the title may hint at, though it teases an excellent theme.

Completed USA Today crossword for Wednesday August 16, 2023

USA Today, August 16 2023, “R2-D2” by Tooky Kavanagh & Amanda Rafkin

Theme: each themer contains —RR—DD—


  • 20a. [Like a vetoed veto], OVERRIDDEN
  • 38a. [Veggie-based dessert similar to gajar ka halwa], CARROTPUDDING
  • 54a. [Reduced, like a list of possibilities], NARROWEDDOWN

Fun theme today with a commonality of two sets of double letters. For OVERRIDDEN, I first thought of “overruled”. CARROTPUDDING is a sweet treat with many versions from different cultures. NARROWEDDOWN is a great phrase and nice addition to the set—glad it made the cut!

Favorite fill: TEASET, ROOST, IMSODOWN (and in the downs!), and CROWSNEST

Stumpers: COOLIO (I could hear the song but couldn’t think of the artist), OUTERWEAR (needed crossings), and IDOITTOO (also needed crossings)

So much delightful bonus fill, and many lengthy ones too!

4.0 stars


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20 Responses to Wednesday, August 16, 2023

  1. Ethan says:

    Oh boy I predict todays Times is going to be unpopular. I quite liked it despite the fill compromises induced by the theme because

    1. I like grid art
    2. I like the play on that classic old bit of crosswordese, AGRA (TAJ shows up occasionally too I feel), by making the Taj Mahal the theme
    3. I like the creative use of circles and the line for the spire echoing the ornamentation of the Taj Mahal.
    4. I like seeing non-Western themes and grid fill, although admittedly the Taj Mahal is universal.

    • Dallas says:

      I really liked it, though the west middle part with CESAR / COTE / OAHU / TRAD / ELHI took me the longest. I don’t know what ELHI is supposed to be, but it completes the rest.

      I sent it to my wife to show my son; we have the LEGO Taj Mahal kit at home (the really big one that they don’t make anymore). It was a wedding present for us, and when he was old enough, we took it all apart, cleaned off the dust, and he rebuilt the whole thing. He really wants to go see the real thing now.

      • Mutman says:

        That section went down in flames for me. Especially since I did not know the builder of the Taj.

        Anyone else notice that Spelling Bee is a rerun??? There’s just no good reason …

      • ZDL says:

        I almost DNF’ed because of the mid-West segment!

      • Eric H says:

        ELHI comes from textbook publishing: Books are either for the elementary/high school market or the college market.

        The term shows up often enough that you’ve probably seen it before, but it’s not all that memorable.

        Except for SHAH JAHAN, I didn’t have too much trouble with that west side.

        I’m sure the grid was tougher to construct, and I like the focus on an Indian landmark, but something about the puzzle left me cold.

        • JohnH says:

          Exactly. I’ve long worked in college publishing, which is very different from El Hi as it turns out. (Doesn’t pay any better, though.)

          I can sympathize with the many who genuinely didn’t like the puzzle. Must admit that solving, between the center W and simply keeping track of the many components of the theme, was more work than pleasure. I kept looking for a more explicit reference to the center shaded cells as well (and they made the numbers in the grid hard to read for my aging eyes).

          Still, I went in expecting a lot and left impressed, so I’m rating it a 4. Besides, I learned Shah Jahan. This is one where I just have to let the constructor’s effort have its own payoff.

        • Papa John says:

          I remembered the SHAH part of the guy’s name from my Art History class but not the other part. I looked him up and learned that SHAH JAHAN isn’t actually his name. It’s his title meaning “King of the World.” His name was Mirza Shahab-ud-Din Baig Muhammad Khan Khurram. See if you can fit that in a crossword puzzle.

      • Stephie says:

        NYT. The right vertical line of the grid was missing in the print version. Was that intentional and if so, why?

    • Lauren says:

      Loved all the aspects mentioned here, as well.
      But,oh boy, that Midwest section. Would that be called a giant Natick?

      • JohnH says:

        My breakthrough was finally remembering CLAUDIO given the first two letters and last letter. (Before that, I could only remember Beatrice and Benedict, who do indeed do a lot of talking.) The U then reminded me where Diamond Head is, which gave me SHAH to go with JAHAN, which gave me EL HI, and then I knew my hope for EARL was right, and I finally remembered COTE and CESAR. TRAD will do.

    • DougC says:

      I’d like to put in a few words for the contrary view, because I think this puzzle could be the poster child for how different solvers can have diametrically opposite experiences.

      I certainly get that if a person is amused by tribute puzzles, trivia, and grid art, and is tolerant of old familiar fill made necessary by the elaborate theme, this is going to be right up their alley.

      OTOH, if (like me) you love crosswords because you love language and wordplay, you will lament the severe restrictions such a conceit imposes on the fill, and the resulting proliferation of tired old crosswordese.

      In terms of fill, there’s just not much that’s new or interesting here. In my years of doing the NYTXW, I have seen all of the TAJ-related trivia used in today’s puzzle; yes, including even SHAHJAHAN. The only two new entries, LETHALBLOW and VWJETTA, are just not very interesting or evocative. And of course we have our old acquaintances PEI, ELHI, ENYA, ESME, EMIR it’s like a class reunion of over-used fill.

      Amy speculates that this puzzle may have run today, rather than on Indian Independence Day Aug. 15, because of its being to hard for a Tuesday, but I just don’t see it: my time was within a few seconds of my Tuesday average, and well below Wednesday’s.

      So if you enjoyed this, I am truly glad for you. And I don’t begrudge the NYT running puzzles that don’t always float my particular boat. But tomorrow’s another day, and I am hoping it brings a very different kind of puzzle.

  2. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Hey! The AV Club Classic crossword for this week hasn’t been emailed out yet. Wanna bet that two or more people will throw a zero-star rating at it before the puzzle’s been made available?

  3. Eric H says:

    New Yorker: The top two-thirds were indeed “lightly challenging,” but the bottom part was something else. It seems strange that National Novel Writing Month a/k/a NANOWRIMO has been around for about 25 years and I’ve never heard of it.

    RETOW? Where else but in a crossword?

    Other than those quibbles, I liked it.

  4. Eric H says:

    AVXC: This was one of those rebus puzzles where I was happy to know how many rebuses there were. It had taken me a little longer than it usually does to recognize that it was a rebus puzzle. I was a bit stumped in the NW, so knowing that I had one more rebus to find helped. I had already gotten CLARA, so I knew 14D had to be S[CHUM]ANN.

  5. Brenda Rose says:

    One word for NYT: EXCELLENT

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